An ever-increasing field of telematics and video telematics suppliers are offering more and more data to fleet managers — which is inarguably a good thing. The systems measure thousands of data points, from idling; harsh braking; miles per gallon; and rapid acceleration; to engine diagnostics such as battery voltage, fuel level, oil pressure, and coolant temperature; and display it on dashboards in real time and in multiple formats.
School Bus Fleet spoke with a handful of suppliers to find out the best ways to keep the deluge of data from overwhelming the staff members involved — which run the gamut from fleet managers to safety trainers to transportation directors to drivers — and help organize and apply it. Working with a proactive telematics or video telematics provider, focusing on core data for your operation, and using it for regular driver coaching are some of the best practices they shared for optimizing data to save money on fuel, cut maintenance costs, and improve driver behavior.
1. Partner with a proactive provider.
H. Kevin Mest, senior vice president of passenger services at Zonar, says that telematics services providers should tailor solutions their customers’ businesses rather than apply a one-size-fits-all approach. That also enables them to suggest more effective improvements.
“They work to understand the reasoning behind their clients’ needs, to uncover areas where additional value can be created,” he explains.
Providers should also plan to meet clients’ needs as they add telematics-based solutions for video, stop arms, and compliance, Mest adds.
Due to consumers often “getting lost in the mountains of data,” partnering with a supplier that cannot only provide data analysis but offer predictive insights is essential, adds Sean Slyman, director of connected services for bus for Navistar, the parent company of IC Bus.
2. Diligently select data alerts.
Ted Thien, vice president and general manager of Tyler Technologies student transportation group, says that because there are thousands of data alerts, Tyler encourages clients to work with its installers and software trainers to only configure alerts they need for their operation. Tyler Telematic GPS, a combination of software from Tyler and the telematic GPS device Geotab GO, manufactured by Geotab Inc., provides these alerts through a combination of location, fleet diagnostics, and the dynamics of an accelerometer. Thien also recommends Tyler Community, a free website that helps clients share tips.
3. Conduct regular data reviews.
Data such as fault codes and trends should be continually reviewed to identify repairs that may require need-it-now parts, bus models that have more costly repairs than others, and driver habits that may impact safety and fuel efficiency, says Mark Childers, powertrain and technology sales manager at Thomas Built Buses.
Thomas Built Buses’ new Detroit Connect Virtual Technician telematics service on school buses equipped with the new Detroit DD5 or DD8 engine helps with this process by sending faults to the Detroit Customer Support Center for further analysis. Within minutes of a fault being triggered, the fleet manager learns the cause of the code and the level of severity and receive recommendations for resolution.
Mest agrees, pointing out that telematics devices such as Zonar’s V4, paired with its web-based platform, Ground Traffic Control, can capture data that can improve preventive maintenance plans and inform purchasing decisions. That data can be analyzed to determine trends such as makes/models with specific failures and how they compare to others.
Data reviews should not only be frequent, but also examine the big picture of the fleet, Slyman says.
“We have seen multiple examples where a fleet is on top of preventive maintenance but poor driver behavior negatively impacts vehicle life and operations, causing higher repair costs and potentially unsafe passenger conditions,” he adds. “That’s why it’s so important to have a holistic view into the fleet.”
Navistar’s remote diagnostics system, OnCommand Connection, reports fault code alerts and indicates the severity of an issue, makes repair recommendations, and communicates them to the dealers and the OEM. OnCommand Connection offers a proprietary telematics device as well, which enables reporting on data points such as fuel efficiency, harsh braking, and acceleration.
IC Bus has also announced the soon-to-be-available IC Bus 360, a tool that streamlines communications between fleets and dealers and helps accelerate repairs through online estimate approvals and up-to-date visibility on the repair status and estimated completion time.
4. Use data to coach drivers – with an eye on retention.
After a successful trial of the Lytx Driver Safety Program in 2014, school bus company Durham School Services partnered with video telematics supplier Lytx to roll it out on its 15,000-bus fleet in December 2018.
Comparing the June to August 2018 and 2019 time frames, Durham saw a 44% reduction in coachable events, such as hard braking, speeding, and late responses.
National Express, Durham’s parent company, has since equipped every bus in all of its fleets based on the improvements Durham experienced in driver safety.
Safer driving is also more efficient driving, Del Lisk, vice president of safety services at Lytx, notes.
“With drivers accelerating less harshly and braking more gradually, many fleets report strong improvements in fuel efficiencies after implementing the Driver Safety Program,” Lisk adds. “One fleet decreased fuel usage, carbon emissions, and idle time by up to 60% and increased the lifespan of tires and brakes by up to 400%.”
Lytx tracks more than 60 driving behaviors. Of those, Lisk says, behaviors that could lead to a collision and are therefore the most potentially costly for fleets include drowsy and distracted driving, late response, and failing to keep enough space around the vehicle, and represent coaching priorities.
Antonio Civitella, president and CEO of Transfinder, says that Viewfinder also monitors driver behaviors such as frequent hard stops.
“Say a driver in the Northeast is a hard stopper,” he explains. “That may not be an issue in September, but in the winter when the roads are slick, that may be a hazard.”
When using video telematics for driver coaching, it is important to conduct quick, continuous, timely coaching to keep drivers on track, Lisk says.
“We find the most successful fleets follow up safety events with coaching within four days or fewer and recommend a focus on remediation and retention rather than discipline,” he adds.
5. Get driver, exec buy-in.
Lisk says that Lytx stresses getting buy-in from executives and drivers at the start of a video telematics implementation. One way to gain support from executives is with return-on-investment information detailing how reductions in collision costs, claims and repair expenses, exoneration of false claims, and fuel savings from safer driving behaviors can benefit the bottom line.
For drivers, as well as others in the organization, Lisk recommends that clients communicate early and often with drivers the reasons for implementing the technology, how it works, and benefits to drivers, while addressing questions and concerns up front.